FPCC is sharing the creative ways communities and individuals are changing their projects during COVID-19. This series features some specific examples of how a willingness to be creative and flexible during this challenging time has led to new and exciting work.
Before COVID-19 restrictions were announced in March, Carla Voyageur was working directly with Elders every week to record Kwak’wala words and phrases for their community site on FirstVoices.com. Their material came from a collection of Kwak’wala note cards that she inherited from work originally done in the 1970s by her great grandfather Bill Sunday Willie and linguist David Grubb.
“We would meet weekly to process the material, to talk about the words, and often times those talks lead to goldmines of interesting language memories,” says Carla. The aim of the weekly in-person meetings was to fill in knowledge gaps and reclaim words and other information that was not included in the original rough notes. Connecting with the Elders in person to discuss the words was an important part of the project.
Carla is from the Musgamagw Dzawada’enukw First Nation and a Kwak’wala language teacher at North Island College. She is a first-time recipient of an FPCC FirstVoices grant, part of the Language Technology Program, to translate and record a large collection of language note cards for the Kawak’wala FirstVoices archive.
Adapting to Continue the Work
COVID-19 has forced many of us to change the way we work, adjust our plans and learn new tools to complete projects. When Carla’s in-person meetings were put on pause, she was no longer able to meet with her group of Elders and she had to find a different way to record the words if she was going to complete the project.
“Fortunately, my grandmother Evelyn Voyageur is fairly tech savvy, and she also helps instruct Kwak’wala at the North Island College with me,” said Carla. “She was very keen to keep the project going and to find a new approach to work with these restrictions. So, I ordered her a microphone to plug into her tablet, something that was super easy, and I helped her set it up.”
Each week Carla sent her grandmother a list of Kwak’wala words for her to translate, record and send back to her, all with just two tablets and a microphone. Because the strategy she used with her grandma has been so successful, she has acquired more microphones to give to Elders in the original FirstVoices group for future use and to keep them involved in the work.
New Interest in Online Learning
Adapting to technology and adjusting her process provided a pathway to continue her to work to complete her FirstVoices grant project and led to new and interesting ways to share her language with others in a safe way. Connecting with language online has grown as a result of COVID-19 and Carla saw an increased interest in her work.
“One of the ideas I had some months before COVID hit was to start a word of the day project,” said Carla. “During COVID our community started to really push the word of the day project on social media. We started a website (musgamagw.ca) for our membership to use and started to post on our community’s Facebook page.”
The hashtag and social media project is ongoing and growing each day with members of the FirstVoices project. The words are shared in written form and include a link to the word in FirstVoices so you can hear the spoken words. To follow the Kwak’wala Word of the Day project visit the Hayulis kwak̓walaxo da ‘na’nalax̱ Facebook page (Always Kwak’wala Everyday) or search #kwakwala or #wordoftheday on Facebook.
Although COVID-19 restrictions presented challenges, Carla views this as an opportunity for more language speakers and learners to use this time to participate in this important work by sharing language with their families at home and connecting to FirstVoices saying, “What a great chance to get individuals and families to use more language right now.”
FirstVoices community sites are available for anyone to explore and a great way to connect with language from home when we can’t gather together. Currently you can find recordings of words, stories dictionaries phrases and more from 32 of the 34 First Nations’ languages of B.C. This community-led platform supports collaboration with Elders and the language teams maintain control over the data they include on their site. Learn more about this FPCC initiative here.
We hold our hands up to Carla, Evelyn and the speakers in her group on their work as more than 5,000 note cards have been reviewed and over 60 hours of new recordings have been made that were not previously available in a digital format. This is an incredible resource for all current and future Kwak’wala speakers and learners.
View our other COVID Success Stories here.
Language Technology program information and FirstVoices funding opportunities click here.
All current FPCC funding opportunities click here.
Explore and start using FirstVoices.com.
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Do you have a story about how you have adapted the work you do in First Nations languages, cultural heritage and Indigenous arts in B.C.? We want to hear from you! Please send your story to firstname.lastname@example.org and check back as we post more stories of the good work being done across the province.
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